Diners basing their restaurant choices on sustainability is such a huge question right now, and it is easy to rush to the wrong conclusions.
If we look at cafes as an example - there has been a huge movement to reduce the use of single-use paper cups over the last three years or so. Cafe owners have been encouraging customers to buy a reusable cup in-store by either giving money off of their take-out (say 10-20p) or a free cup of coffee with each purchase of a reusable cup.
Three years ago, I could understand why owners would want to do this, as it was a new movement and customers need a reason to change habits, and money off generally always works. Nowadays, we need to be having conversations about why we are doing this, in the hope that consumers and the public at large now want to do it because it is the right thing to do, rather than because they get something for less or for free.
To continue looking at reusable cups as an example, we may be doing more harm than good by encouraging the use of reusable glass or bamboo cups. Bamboo seems like a good choice for environmentally friendly consumers, and I completely agreed with this until recently. I discovered bamboo cups are quite dangerous, due to the process of powdering down the bamboo and then glueing it back together. Apparently, most bamboo cups contain melamine resin, a kind of glue made of formaldehyde. Makers of bamboo cups claim their products are reusable and ecologically friendly, but greater research into what is the best option for our carbon footprint and our overall health needs to be investigated.
I would say that all restaurants, bars and cafes should 100% be dedicated to sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint, but what is the best way to approach it? My research has led me to the conclusion that focusing on reducing waste, switching to LED lighting, making sure your air conditioning and refrigeration units produce low levels of polluting chemicals, buying local and seasonal, paying a fair price for goods and understanding your food chain is of huge benefit.
Making tangible changes and choices that you can communicate to your prospective customers will be of great value. Having data to further communicate how your business is being more sustainable will show that you are really making an impact. Start having conversations with your customers and your suppliers. Build your business around being sustainable instead of trying to retrofit it in. Understand the importance of your business to do as little harm as possible. We all have a responsibility. Start making small, tangible changes and go on from there.